The New York State Writers Institute at UAlbany kicked off its 2020 program Friday with a tribute to one of the university's most famous and accomplished faculty members. 

The life and work of Toni Morrison was the focus at the university's downtown campus. Morrison was the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature. She passed away at 88 last August. 

Morrison taught at UAlbany for five years in the 80s and worked on her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "Beloved" while there. She found fame and critical success as an author only after a long career in publishing where she was instrumental in bringing black voices like Angela Davis and Huey Newton to a wider readership. 

One panelist, who works in Morrison's old office, talked about what the special connection means to her. 

"I don't hear voices but I do get these sparks of inspiration every now and then...So I'm wondering if I'm being inspired by the same muse," said Janell Hobson, chair of Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies at UAlbany.

Friday's event was the first of 35 that the Writers Institute has planned for this year.